ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani border region struggling against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants will distribute 30,000 rifles to villagers in hopes that local militias can help the provincial government regain control, a top official said Sunday.
The announcement from the North West Frontier Province came after Pakistan's government announced a seemingly conflicting deal in the Swat Valley — a Taliban stronghold within the province — to impose Islamic law if the extremists stop fighting.
Pakistan has been trying to allay U.S. concerns that peace talks with Taliban militants in the region were tantamount to surrender. But it was unclear if the embattled North West Frontier Province government's plan had the backing of national leaders or the army.
Similar village militias, backed by the United States, have been credited with reducing violence in Iraq, and a comparable initiative is under way in Afghanistan.
Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of the provincial government, said authorities would distribute the guns among "peaceful groups and individuals" so they could help police to guard their villages.
Officials would consult with local police before handing out the arms and would take them back if they were not used against "terrorists and troublemakers," Hoti's office said in a written statement.
The statement said the guns had been seized from "terrorists and anti-state elements."
It did not say when the weapons would be handed out, or if villagers would be armed in the Swat valley, where security forces and Taliban militants are observing a week-old cease-fire while seeking a peace accord.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the army had not been consulted about arming village militias. Interior Ministry spokesman Shahidullah Baig was also unaware of the plan.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy could not be immediately reached for comment.